School board to vote on technology plan

Joshua Kellogg
Charles Thacker, executive director of technology for the Farmington Municipal School District, poses with some of the district's servers on Wednesday at the Career and Technology Education Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – The vision of a proposed three-year technology plan for the Farmington Municipal School District is to use technology to empower students to maximize their ability to learn and to support that mission by maintaining and upgrading technology district wide.

The district’s 2016-2019 proposed $7.25 million technology plan will be up for approval during the district’s Board of Education meeting today.

Charles Thacker, the district’s executive director of technology, said the plan is necessary so that the district can apply for state and federal e-rate funding to help finance the plan and maintain its laptop initiative for middle and high school students. The federal e-rate program offers discounts on Internet access and telecommunications for schools and libraries.

“The concept of the plan is to make sure we are in line with our goals, our vision and mission for the district,” Thacker said.

Thacker said he was optimistic about getting state and federal assistance through the e-rate program to reduce the budget about $1.04 million to $6.21 million.

Most of the plan is dedicated to maintaining the district’s Farmington Learning Initiative, which assigns 5,400 Apple laptop computers to middle and high school students for the school year.

Farmington High School yearbook adviser Erin McGinley, left, helps sophomore Traedan Allison, center, with a page he is designing for the yearbook on Jan. 27 as senior Alisha Salas watches.

The most expensive item on the technology plan’s budget is $3.8 million to replace Apple Macbook laptops used by students and staff members.

Thacker said the district will replace 2,800 Macbook laptops for high school students and 700 computers for certified teaching staff members as the laptops are replaced every four years. The older laptops from the high schools will be transferred to elementary schools in the district.

The laptop computers have become a key to the students’ education, according to Farmington High School teacher Erin McGinley. She teaches such classes as 3D animation and advanced computer projects, and is the adviser for the yearbook.

McGinley said the laptops allow the students to learn in the classroom and continue their education outside of the classroom.

“These kids, for the most part, continue to teach teachers on how to do things,” McGinley said. “They are ones who continue to explore, learn and educate themselves.”

Charles Thacker, executive director of technology for the Farmington Municipal School District, says the district will replace 700 Macbook laptops for high school students.

Thacker said the district has applied for federal e-rate funding to upgrade the district’s Wide Area Network to a fiber-optic connection for 12 schools not connected to the district’s fiber-optic system.

Changes to the federal e-rate program allow school districts to help pay for the upfront costs of building a fiber-optic network, and it could drastically lower operations costs for the district.

Thacker said leased microwave towers used at the schools for Internet and network access cost about $17 a megabyte per month. With a fiber-optic network, the costs could drop to as little as 3 cents per megabyte per month.

The technology plan is funded by a loan from the New Mexico Finance Authority. The loan approved in 2014 by the finance authority was for about $6.5 million, according to district Chief Financial Officer Randy Bondow.

Bondow said the approval of the loan application will come before the board members during their Feb. 9 meeting.

The loan is paid using property taxes from the Farmington school district. The current tax rate for the education technology debt service is $2.783 per $1,000 of net taxable value of a home.

Farmington High School students work on laptop computers on Jan. 27 at the school. The school board approved a contract Thursday that calls for the installation of new fiber-optic lines.

If a home is valued at $150,000, $50,000 of that would be taxable, yielding an annual payment of $139.15 for the homeowner.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.